A Simple Man Meets Faust:

In this world of juxtaposition and dialectical opposites, there does not seem to be any two individuals who could be further apart than Ricky Van Shelton’s Simple Man and Goethe’s Faust.  However, looks and paradigms can often be deceiving.

man-sitting-pick-up-truck-camping-holiday-wearing-rucksack-smiling-38632895

A Simple Man (since we don’t know his actual name he will remain a “Simple Man”) is a good old country boy.  We presume he is a blue collar worker, never went to college and probably does some hard manual labor.  He loves to hunt, fish and drink with Bubba, Billy Joe and the other guys.  He is everyman’s down to earth guy.  He does not worry about the future but takes one day at a time.  His thoughts are more likely to meander around his next fishing hole than to try to plumb the meaning of the universe.

faust in study

Faust for all apparent purposes has not a thing in common with a Simple Man.  Faust is complex, morose, introverted, elderly and a true intellectual. No doubt Faust went to Oxford or some high class German Academy.  He ranked not only first in his class but first in every academic endeavor he ever undertook. He went on to become the most esteemed Doctor of Philosophy in German and European history.   He loves to read, write, compose and publish esoteric treatises on the nature of the universe and the meaning of reality.  Faust is first among thinkers and intellectuals.

Well, there you have it. Two diametrically opposed male personalities.  A Simple Man and his mirror image Faust.  But beware!  Appearances can be deceiving. Things may not always be as they seem.  Could it be that Faust and a Simple Man have more in common than you would think?  Follow me as we examine a dialogue between a Simple Man and his wife and a dialogue between Faust and Mephistopheles.  Note similarities.  Note differences.  A Simple Man wants to find peace of mind and his “baby” does not seem to understand his real needs.  Mephistopheles finds Faust also distraught and agitated.  Despite Faust’s soaring intellect, he is unhappy with his life and the success he has achieved.  He responds to Mephistopheles, the devil, who purports to be able to give Faust the happiness he desires.

country guy with woman

A Simple Man: (Lyrics and Music by Ricky Van Shelton)

I don’t know why you wanna start with me

I ain’t done nothin’ far as I can see

And I’m worn out from working too hard

Why don’t you give me a break.

faust with woman 2

Faust:  (Music by Gounod, Lyrics by Goethe)

All to know, all in earth and heaven.

No light illumines the visions, ever

thronging my brain ; no peace is given,

And I linger, thus sad and weary,

Without power to sunder the chain

Binding my soul to life always dreary.

Nought do I see! Nought do I know

  • Both men are worn down and worn out.  Both are feeling hopeless.

 A Simple Man:

I know that lately things ain’t been so good

I’ll make it up just like I told you I would

But I’m tired and I wanna sit down

To ease a sore backache

Faust: 

Again the light of a new day !

O death ! when will thy dusky wings

Above me hover and give me rest?

  • Both men want peace and rest

frying pan

 A Simple Man:

You say you’re having trouble figuring me

I don’t believe I’m such a mystery

Baby what you get is what you see

I am a simple man

I wanna a job and a piece of land

Three squares in my frying pan

Don’t seem so hard to me to understand

Faust:

Cursed be all of man’s vile race !

Cursed be the chains which bind him in his place!

Cursed be visions false, deceiving!

Cursed the folly of believing!

Cursed be dreams of love or hate !

Cursed be souls with joy elate.

Cursed be science, prayer, and faith!

Cursed my fate in life and death!

Infernal king, arise!

  •  Science, prayer and faith cannot provide the peace each man requires.  Faust has given up on intellectual solutions while a Simple Man still believes in the joys of work, land and food.

 A Simple Man:

You say you got some things to talk about

A lot of problems that we need to work out

But we just end up fighting

Why don’t you give it a rest

I don’t know what else I can say to you

I’m doing everything I know to do

And I can’t give you anything more

When I’m giving my best

faust with woman

Faust:

I sigh for thy kisses,

Its love I demand!

With ardor unwonted

I long now to burn ;

I sigh for the rapture

Of heart and of sense.

  •  What both Faust and a Simple Man really want is love.

country boy in bed

 A Simple Man:

You say you’re having trouble figuring me

I don’t believe I’m such a mystery

Baby what you get is what you see

I am a simple man

I wanna place I can lay my head

Soft woman and a warm bed

A little time off before I’m dead

I’m just a simple man

Faust:

But implore in vain.

Let me thy hand take, and clasp it,

And behold but thy face once again,

Illum’d by that pale light,

From yonder moon that shines,

O’er thy beauteous features shedding

Its faint but golden ray.

  •  Faust is more eloquent but a Simple Man hits the nail on the head.  I just want a soft woman and a warm bed.

 A Simple Man:

You say you’re having trouble figuring me

I don’t believe I’m such a mystery

Baby what you get is what you see

I am a simple man

Faust:

Again the light of a new day !

O death ! when will thy dusky wings

Above me hover and give me rest?

  •  Both the opera and the song leave you with the impression that neither Faust nor a Simple Man obtains the life they want to live.  Something is out of kilter that cannot be set right.  Tragic expectations on the part of both a Simple Man and Faust are never fulfilled in the real world.  Neither books nor hunting, nor ideas nor actions enable either man to find what they are looking for. 

A Zen Master happens to be walking by and overhears the laments of both Faust and a Simple Man. He notes the apparent remorse and confusion of their musings.  He is struck by their sadness and attempts to offer some wisdom which he feels might be consoling.

Zen Master: 

Life cannot be lived through others.  The secret of happiness is to let go of your expectations for happiness and to realize that happiness is only obtained through inner wisdom and not through external ideas or things or people.

You Faust thought that ideas and your intellect could bring you happiness. When this mode failed, you gave your soul up for the immediate pleasures of the world.  You failed in both efforts.

You Simple Man thought that you could escape responsibility for your happiness.  You thought your wife would provide you the succor and tranquility which your lifestyle necessitated. You thought she would be the warm pillow and soft bed who would take care of your weary bones.  You have also failed to find the peace you desired.

Faust:  I am half a man.

Simple Man:  And I the other half!

Zen Master:  Perhaps two halves make a whole.

Time for Questions:

What similarities between a Simple Man and Faust did you find?  What differences did you find?  What if anything surprised you about their thoughts and needs?  Do we think focus more on the differences between people than the similarities?  Would it make a difference in how we view the world if we saw more similarities between people?  Do you think you are very different from most people or very similar?  Why?  How have your differences and similarities affected your life?

Life is Just Beginning.

A Conversation between Satan and God

god-and-satan

Satan and God were sitting on a rock one day having a discussion about the human race.

Satan said to “God, I need some more souls in hell.  I think we have played this game with humanity for long enough.  Let’s end it and start a new game.”

God said:  “Well, I could be talked into that.  How would you suggest we end it?

Satan:  “We can divide up the human race.  You take the good ones and I will take the bad ones.”

God:  “Who would you include among the ‘bad’ ones?”

Satan:  “I will take all the people who never promoted peace and who sowed the seeds of hate and bigotry among humanity.”

God:  “They are all you want?”

Satan:  “Well, I would also like all the greedy ones who never did anything to help anyone else but who collected as much wealth as they could and would not share it with anyone else.”

God:  “Does this include all the greedy people who were against taxes to help the poor and needy?”

Satan:  “Of course.”

God:  “That’s not fair.  There would hardly be anyone left for me.”

Satan:  “Do you remember a long time ago when you gave Lot the deal with finding ten good people and you would save the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah from your wrath.  Your angels could not find even ten people for you to spare.  That was a good day for me.”

God:  “You have had many good days since we started this game.  Do you think perhaps it’s all your fault?  You are constantly sowing greed and hate.”

Satan:  “Guilty as charged but do you remember the Parable of the Seeds?  Some fell on good soil and grew and some fell on bad soil and did not grow.  My efforts would be fruitless were not humans so ripe for plucking and beguiling.”

God:  “Still, sometimes, I think you have been overzealous.  I gave humans free will when I created them and this has come back to bias our game.”

Satan:  “Please, now is not the time for hindsight.  I warned you about this when you created them but you were ever the optimist.”

hell_lavapitSatan:  “Do you want to concede and I will just take them all down to Hell?”

God:  “Do you have no mercy and compassion in you someplace?

Satan:  “You created me and now you extol me to be compassionate and merciful.  Those are traits best left for you and your saints.  I have no heart or soul so how can I care about anything much less human beings.”

God:  “Would you like to start over.  I can always recreate you.”

Satan:  “Thanks, but I am fine.  I like myself just the way I am.  I see no need for pity, love, kindness, or any of the other traits that you gave to humans.  Much good it has done them.”

godGod:  “The interesting thing about humans is not their stupidity and evilness.  It’s the surprising amount of love that they can sometimes show for others.  I am ever the optimist.  That is my role, to be the Eternal Optimist.  I have had hopes since the first cave men and since Moses and Socrates and Jesus and Mohammed and Gandhi and King and Mandela that humans have a spark in them.  A spark that when ignited can change themselves and the world into something beautiful.  Something that is so beautiful, it is even beyond anything I might have created.”

Satan:  “Yes, and then they turn right around and burn it down again.”  Hardly a day goes by on earth, when there is not some riot or war or holocaust or massacre or murder.”

God:  “It seesaws back and forth.  For over 100,000 years now, we have played this game and just when I think, I might win, someone or something evil seems to possess humans that I would never have thought of.”

Satan:  “Right, and you would like to blame me for it, but you gave them free will.”

God:  “The game would have been too predictable without free will.”

Satan:  “You keep hoping they will believe in you someday.  How many times have we had this discussion and yet we keep playing this game.”

God:  “Would you deny me the chance to win.”

chess-for-humanity-1Satan:  “You know I don’t care one way or the other.  I have no feelings to be hurt.  I cannot gloat or feel any satisfaction.  Whenever, a new soul comes down to Hell, it is no sense of pride or satisfaction to me.  These humans seem to mistake my logic and justice for evil.  I am the parent who dispenses the discipline and they see me as the mean and cruel one.”

Satan:  “From a purely logical viewpoint, I do not know why you subject yourself to this.  I see your pain and heartache whenever you lose one to me.  Why go on like this?  It will never be any different.  I get them for a thousand or so years and then I send their cleansed souls back to earth and in a short time they are back down again to Hell.”

God:  “I have no limits to my forgiveness.  They pray to me regularly for forgiveness and I forgive them.”

Satan:  “Yes, but even before they ask for forgiveness, they ask for their daily bread.  It is the only thing they can think about, eating and drinking and sex.”

God:  “You forget the good ones.  The mothers that devote their lives to their children.  The soldiers that forfeit their lives on the battlefields.  The fathers that work two jobs to support their families.  The martyrs who give their lives for their faith.  The blessed who are humble.  The peacemakers who face scorn and ridicule to end war.  The charitable who give the shirt off their backs to help those in need.”

Satan:  “Yes, and for every good one, there are ten evil ones.  That is why I want to end this farce.  How many souls must I take down to Hell, before you concede that humans are hopeless?”

God:  “Perhaps if I send another prophet or messiah to spread my message, we could turn the game around?”

Satan:  “You have sent dozens of prophets and many messiahs and it has made no difference.  They end up scorning or murdering your prophets and messiahs.  They would not follow your message if they could find the tablets that you etched in stone and gave to Moses.”

God:  “I don’t want to win for my sake.  I fight for love and peace and justice and beauty.  These are the things that bring color to the universe.  Without these, you have a bland shade of grey.  You have a sterile meaningless bunch of rocks.  You have never understood this because you see everything through pure logic and no emotions.”

Satan:  “When you created me, you thought that such a being as I am would be superior to one that could be swayed by emotions and feelings.  Now you criticize me for doing my job?”

God:  “I did not realize how monotonous and tedious the universe would be without feelings.”

Satan:  “It does not seem like you can have it both ways.  You want to create a world without evil and based on compassion and love and yet you give humans the ingredients that foment hatred and bigotry.”

God:  “Do you not think we have made any progress since the first humans were created?  I have infinite patience.  We can play the game for eons but I will win someday.”

Satan:  “And is it worth it?  How much pain and misery and suffering must you endure dealing with these humans?”

God:  “True, they have tried my patience at times.  But just when I might be willing to concede to you, I see justice and love blossoming some place and it makes the battle worth winning.  As their creator, I cannot turn my back on these humans.  There is no limit to my forgiveness.  I am not driven by logic as you are.  I am the mother who cannot give up on her children regardless of how many times they make mistakes.”

satan-imageSatan:  “But they never learn. They are shortsighted, petty, vindictive and greedy.  Do you really think they care about your teachings or precious commitment to love and peace?  They would rather fight wars and dominate others.  They even fight wars in your name.  Their religions scream for violence over other religions.  Their leaders preach victory over other nations.  Their minion’s rape and pillage in the name of some esoteric ideology.  They all believe they are superior to each other.  They send their own children to die in wars of so called freedom and liberation.  They abuse and murder their own spouses at alarming rates.  They teach their offspring at an early age to be intolerant of other races.  And they pray in your name for the power to be successful in all of these efforts.  They invoke prayers to you before murdering millions.  How can you listen to these prayers and want to help these hypocrites.”

God:  “Being in charge of Hell does not help you to see any positives in the universe.  You have a very difficult job.”

Satan:  “We make a good team.  You, the everlasting optimist, full of hope and love.  Me, the ultimate logician, ever ready to exact justice for evil done.”

Satan:  “They will destroy themselves anyway and then what.  Did you know that the earth was warming up at an alarming rate?”

God:  “Of course.”

Satan:  “It is not your doing, right?”

God:  “No, I have nothing to do with it.”

Satan:  “And yet they blame you for it.  The last thing in the world they want to admit is that it might be their fault.  That all of their pollution, oil burning, fossil fuel burning and carbon emissions is changing their climate.  They deny any responsibility for it.  I thought they would destroy the world with nuclear weapons, but they somehow avoided doing that.  Now, they are working to destroy it by overheating it.  I don’t think it will be long before the game is over.”

gods-voice-vs-satans-voiceGod:  “You count them out too fast.  The clock was close to 12 with nuclear weapons but as you noted, they carefully avoided destroying themselves.  They are often very shortsighted and many of them will never be long-term thinkers.  However, there are enough who care and who are passionate enough about others to help save humanity.  I can’t help being filled with astonishment at the love that humans frequently have for each other.”

Satan:  “Yes, but it always seems to entail some crisis to bring it out.”

God:  “That is true.  But it shows that there is hope.  And even if there is only 1 human being still alive who cares about others, that is enough for me.  The game will go on.”

Satan:  “Well, how about a cap of another 10,000 years. I am tired of being the gatekeeper of Hell and punishing evil and wrongdoers.  I do not have your patience.”

God:  “Done, we will give humanity another 10,000 years and see how they are doing then.”

Satan:  “I have a feeling we will be having this same conversation in another 10,000 years.”

Time for Questions:

What would you like to tell God if you could?  Do you believe in God?  Why or why not?  Does the concept of God make a difference in the world?  Why? For better or worse?

Life is just beginning.

“Satan, on the contrary, is thin, ascetic and a fanatical devotee of logic.  He reads Machiavelli, Ignatius of Loyola, Marx and Hegel; he is cold and unmerciful to mankind, out of a kind of mathematical mercifulness.  He is damned always to do that which is most repugnant to him: to become a slaughterer, in order to abolish slaughtering, to sacrifice lambs so that no more lambs may be slaughtered, to whip people with knouts so that they may learn not to let themselves be whipped, to strip himself of every scruple in the name of a higher scrupulousness, and to challenge the hatred of mankind because of his love for it–an abstract and geometric love.”
― Arthur KoestlerDarkness at Noon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sin and Evil

I hope you will excuse the apparent redundancy in the title of this blog.  I had started it as Sin and the Serial Killer but then decided it would be Sin and the Mass Killer.  I wanted to include spree, serial and mass murderers in this treatise on sin and evil.  The title, Sin, Serial Killers, Spree Killers and Mass Murderers: Why are they Evil?, just seemed too long.  Actually, if you think Sin and Evil are redundant, I can assure you they are not the same. 

When I was a young boy going to a Catholic School called Mount St. Francis, I learned that there were two types of sin:  Venial and Mortal.  A Mortal sin (if un-confessed at death) would earn you a one way ticket straight to hell.  No stops along the way.  A Venial sin would get you into a place called Purgatory.  If I remember correctly, Purgatory was a lot like hell, you did not get to see God and it was awfully hot. However, a ticket to Purgatory could eventually be exchanged for a ticket to heaven.  You merely had to sit in Purgatory for some length of time and then you would be allowed to change your place of residence.

Way back then, and even today, I had a hard time trying to figure out what were Venial Sins and what were Mortal sins.  Perhaps this is why I rejected the catechism of Catholicism and eventually all of organized religion.   The nuances and intricacies of getting to heaven or hell were beyond my cognitive capacities.  For instance, one of my great pleasures “Masturbation” was good for a ticket to hell.  I cannot tell you how many tickets I earned to hell while deriving great pleasure from this pastime.  I still cannot understand why something that hurts no one, including myself and is actually a great deal of fun would be deemed a Mortal sin.  Neither can I give you an example of a Venial sin since I think I never committed any.  Somehow all of my sins at the time were Mortal:  Disobeying my parents, taking the Lord’s name in vain and having sex without marriage.  I was good for at least 50 Hail Marys’ at every confession I went to. 

So since we cannot define sin, can we say that there is no sin?  Assuredly you would answer NO!  Sin is Evil.  If so, then we must define evil.  If we say that evil is committing a sin, then we really are being redundant.   Perhaps looking at some definitions of evil might help us with this problem.  Here are some various definitions of evil:

  • Profound immorality, wickedness, and depravity, esp. when regarded as a supernatural force.
  • According to the Bible evil becomes a reality in the very beginning with the first couple. Sin produces evil. Gen 2:9, the tree of life was also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
  • Although the Bible meaning of evil includes the idea of sinfulness or wickedness in many cases, it also has a broader meaning that is commonly used. In this broader meaning, evil refers to those things that are generally thought of as bad or undesirable; or as the dictionary says, “causing pain or trouble.” This would include things such as wars or disease and this is the kind of evil referred to in Isaiah 45:7.

I think you can easily see that the common definitions of sin and evil are not very helpful on a day to day basis.  It could be argued quite easily that one person’s sin is another person’s good.  Or that sin and evil are simply social conventions defined by majority thought.  Wars and disease are part of the normal fabric of life and when were any political leaders ever consigned to hell because they declared war?  It seems like a rather good idea but I don’t see it happening anytime soon. 

I suppose you are expecting me then to make a case (perhaps already started) that there is no such thing as sin or perhaps even evil?  Actually, I want to argue the opposite.  The older and I hope wiser I have become the more I see that Sin and Evil actually do exist.  Sin and Evil are behaviors that create havoc and devastation in the world. 

My path to this conclusion lay in my thinking about mass murderers.   Much of the general public are fascinated by the subject of serial killers.  It would seem that at least ½ of the novels on the best seller list have serial killers as their theme.  We are intrigued and perplexed by trying to understand why anyone would commit the crimes (a legal term as I use it and not to be confused necessarily with sin or evil) that these individuals do.  If anything could be generally agreed on as evil by most people, it would be these types of murders, including; spree, serial and mass type executions done by individuals and not sanctioned by state or governmental authority.  So we do have at least one area that we can agree on as evil.  Perhaps a definition of evil as applied to such killers would be:  “The taking of random innocent lives by unknown assailants for no apparent purpose.”  But then are these killers also sinners?   Again, you would readily answer yes to this question, but why?  Where in the Bible does it condemn mass killings as sinful?  The Old Testament is full of mass killings perpetrated for gain and convenience.  What sets the mass murderer apart from the murders perpetuated by one society against another society?  Is there any difference? 

I think the answer is yes.  If you look at the motivation of the mass murderers, people like Bundy, Gacy, Dahmer and many others you will find some common purposes.  Wikipedia defines the “motives” of serial killers as: 

The motives of serial killers are generally placed into four categories: visionarymission-orientedhedonistic and power or control; however, the motives of any given killer may display considerable overlap among these categories.  Wikipedia

What does not emerge from this typology is the rather obvious fact that in each case, the perpetrator has destroyed something and created nothing.  All mass murderers destroy and leave nothing of any value for the world.  They gain their joy from the act of destruction. Whether they torture their victims or kill them all in mass with a bomb, mass murderers derive their pleasure at the moment of destruction.  Everything else connected with their heinous crimes are prelude and postscript.  Nothing gives the mass killer more pleasure than their ability to destroy and their anticipation of destruction.  The literature is full of examples of impotent murderers who were able to achieve potency only at the point of the actual murder of their victims.  This has been true in mass killings as well as individual killings. 

If Evil is the destruction of life, then Sin is the arrogation of the power to destroy life by an individual.  It has often been claimed that there is a Yin and Yang in the world and that Good is the opposite of Evil.  Or that the Devil represents Sin and Evil and God represents Virtue and Goodness.  I believe this is wrong.  It is a false dichotomy.  The mass killer wants to be like God.  God is the ultimate power.  The Devil cannot stand up to God.  In the madness of the mass killer, they want to experience the power of God.  However, there is a grave difference between the power of God and the power of the Devil.  The Devil only has the power to destroy.  God has the power to both create and destroy.  But the destruction of the Devil and the destruction of God are not the same. The destruction that God creates is a cosmic destruction that is part of the cycle of life.  God’s destruction perpetuates creation by allowing a continuous cycle of birth and rebirth throughout the universe.  The Devil’s destruction creates nothing except evil.  The mass killer destroys but never creates.  On a more limited scale, vandals are evil because they destroy without creating anything. 

To conclude then, I would define Sin as the taking of power to destroy by an individual without the responsibility to create.  Evil is destruction without the creation of value.  Someone who destroys something may be guilty of both being Sinful and Evil.  The mass murderer wants to be like God and to experience the power of God but in the end fails.  Humans can never have the power to create life except where some life did not first exist.  The definition of God is one who can give life and can also take it away.  I know not whether there is a God as defined by organized religion but there is a power in the universe which perpetuates a creative cycle of birth and rebirth or creation and destruction.  There are also those people who have more in common with the Devil since they only destroy.  This is the evil of the mass murderer and any who would be God without the responsibility to create as well as to destroy. 

Time for Questions:

What do you think Evil is?  Do you think the Devil really exists?  What is Goodness?  Can humans be both good and evil?  When does anything become pure evil?  Do we really need a God in the world?  Why or Why not?  What role does God play in your life?  What role does the Devil play? 

Life is just beginning.

 

 

 

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